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This formerly ’80s-era beach house now offers a lesson in flow, functionality—and beautiful design.
In the pantheon of great architecture eras, rarely do the 1980s crack the top 10. Heck, even the top 100 might be a stretch thanks to the decade’s love affair with glass block and peach stucco exteriors, the two design hallmarks that were as ubiquitous as the power suit and the shoulder pad. But for one Vancouver couple, the purchase of a 1980s waterfront house inspired them to not only preserve its underappreciated period elements, but to actually pay homage to them.
The Beach House started life in the early-1990s as the Skinny House, due to its original, ultra-compact 19-foot-wide-lot and 3,000-square-foot total footprint. Originally crafted as a city initiative for a laneway infill, the home sat on a long and razor-thin piece of land that was eventually merged with a neighbouring lot in 2012, which gave way to its current 45-foot width. When the homeowners purchased the newly widened property, they could have opted to tear the small house down. Instead, they chose to renovate. “The original house was exceptionally designed,” says architect Piers Cunnington of Measured Architecture, who, along with business partner Clinton Cuddington, signed on to shepherd the process.
“Fifty percent of Vancouver’s landfill is housing [waste], so both we and our client were looking for a way to keep the house out of the garbage,” says Piers. “There were a lot of valuable assets inside so we worked to preserve and protect the things that were working while integrating an addition that would improve its size, flow and functionality.” The original house featured a stunning white stone fireplace with carved First Nation designs, a light-filled glass staircase and a shape that could work well with an add-on.
MORE OF THIS HOME: Check out the Before and After Photos of This Stunning Renovation
One of the biggest challenges the architects faced was ensuring that the addition and the original home would come together in a single, homogenous design. With a new space stitched on to the original envelope, the size more than doubled, to 5,600 square feet. “We didn’t want a 2018 design sitting next to a 1980s design,” says Piers. To boot, the home had undergone an early-2000s renovation by renowned interior designer Robert Ledingham—which, while offering myriad beautiful details, also added to the list of features that would all need to integrate seamlessly.
Because Skinny House was so long and thin, the architects were contending with 80 feet of solid wall between the existing house and the new portion. The duo sought to create openness between the old and new by adding large openings, while ensuring that each room had enough autonomy to feel cozy on its own. Most of the plumbing was kept within the original portion of the house; the stairs and kitchen were also left in place and updated.
“One of the fascinating things about these types of renovations is that they give you strong footholds to leap from, which leads to outcomes you would never design from the outset,” says Clinton. To wit: a powder room on the main floor that features a skylight wedged into a tight, diagonal space. “I never would have designed that on a blank piece of paper, but it’s kind of a fabulous space,” says Piers. “You’ve got great light and a window out to the west—it’s like a charm that comes out of the geometry of the existing residence.”
The homeowner was seeking a casual, easy feel that evoked a beach house. “He came to us showing pictures of cabins and beach houses that weren’t fussy,” says Clinton. “He wanted to be able to walk in with sandy feet.” The architects opted for concrete floors for easy clean-up, but brought in the softness and warmth of wood for cozy contrast. Comb-faced stained western red cedar panelling on the walls, ceiling and exterior soffits nod to the classic West Coast architecture of places like California’s Sea Ranch, while strategically placed white drywall offers visual respite and pulls the eye toward the view.
From the outside, no one would be the wiser that this stunning, metal-clad modern beach house sprang from the ’80s. “That original building is in there somewhere,” says Clinton. “But this project worked to gift-wrap the old form.”
READ MORE: What Happens When a Design Magazine Editor Takes on a Renovation of Her Own
Originally published June 2022
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